Civility and the Steady Retreat from Truth

“I hope I live to see the day,” reads the subject line of an email I received a few days ago; the body continues: “That you are dead and rotting in hell along with your grandparents.”

This email arrived two days after another email posed two questions: “Did you really say those vile comments about Rush Limbaugh? Do you like civility or have you been misquoted?”

In the wake of Limbaugh’s death from cancer, conservatives and right-wing media have rushed to confront and chastise the incivility of anyone (especially professors) who expressed everything from glee to stating the facts around Limbaugh’s hate-mongering career, swamped with daily examples of mean-spiritedness, blatant racism, xenophobia, and misogyny.

In my own social media situation concerning Limbaugh, let me return to the two questions above. To whether or not I expressed “those vile comments” or if I have been misquoted, the answer is very complicated.

Of the handful-plus angry emails and voicemails I have received, a couple included my university president and other administrators (those annoying efforts at passive-aggressive intimidation); in one of those I can see the source of outrage at my claimed lack of civility since one email quoted from a right-wing media posting that in effect literally added words to my Tweet (including Limbaugh’s name, which I did not use, so yes to the misquoting) and distorted the purpose of my Tweet.

I did Tweet support for simply stating negative facts about Limbaugh despite his death and the universal tragedy that is cancer (my mother died horribly of stage 4 lung cancer just a few years ago). However, I did not celebrate his death in any way, and, in my view, I was not in the least uncivil; the full text of my offending Tweet reads: “Death and the tragedy of cancer in no way erase the facts of a person being a genuinely horrible entity that made a fortune at the expense of others. With almost no consequences. Death is no excuse for silence around evil.”

I do acknowledge the very worst of Limbaugh’s career (what I would argue is the bulk of that career and certainly not outlier examples), but I made the statement to emphasize that expressing the truth is not an act of incivility.

To be succinct, I do not support a moratorium on truth, and to answer part of one of the questions above, I actually do not “like civility”—or to be more clear, I reject calls for civility and all forms of respectability politics because they are disproportionately tools of those in power who seek silence and inaction against that inequity that supports their status.

When I read and hear the emails angry at me for breaking the rules of civility surrounding Limbaugh, I hear first: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks” (Hamlet).

Next, to be blunt, it is impossible to take seriously those who support Limbaugh as arbiters of civility. I find the finger-waving of Limbaugh’s supporters to be at best faux-outrage and at worst the most crass form of hypocrisy that has nothing to do with civility.

Several aspects of my situation—despite the insincerity of the complaints and the misleading framing taken on conservative media—raise important question about civility, truth, and the space (or not) between social media and anyone’s career (notably the careers of academics).

Currently and over the last half-year, a Biden nominee is facing serious challenges due to posts on Twitter (from Republicans who turned a blind eye to Trump’s Tweeting for four-plus years), and L. D. Burnett, a fellow academic, has experienced a very public challenge to that space between social media and our classrooms or roles as representatives of our institutions.

Just as there was never a civil day on any broadcast by Limbaugh or for four years of Trump as president, we must not allow calls for respectability politics to detract from the larger problem—the steady retreat from truth.

Throughout Trump’s administration, we witnessed a white backlash that framed calling out racism as more damning than racism itself. That no one dare call anyone a racist is very much the pinnacle of the problem with calls for civility; “racism” is being framed as uncivil so that the truth of racism cannot be uttered.

Daily, elected officials wearing expensive suits, having meticulous hair-dos, speaking with calming tones, and using words that do not offend even the most delicate ears express deeply offensive ideas and false claims; yet, they are never challenged as uncivil. And they are allowed the bully-pulpit of their status, which is cloaked in the protective shield of everyone being held to standards of civility.

In recent days, we witnessed during the confirmation hearings around Merrick Garland several elected officials, well coifed and suited, use racist tropes, feign ignorance about implicit bias, and utter provably false claims; yet, the proceedings were civil, apparently, by the standards of those who deem me the horrible person.

In many ways the Republican Party and conservatives across the country have devolved into the bully politics that resulted in Trump; bully politics depends on lies and gaslighting—as a sort of dysfunctional abusive relationship between elected officials and the electorate.

But bully politics and the erosion of truth also depend on the two divisions of power having an imbalanced standard of civility. The bully side, conservative America, wallows in hate and incivility while the passive side, progressive America, holds up civility as the ultimate goal (above accountability or equity, for example).

To be brief, bullies expect those being bullied to be passive and civil.

I will concede the value in civility once our moral and ethical standards of truth are established along with a clear assertion that the truth is never uncivil.

Civility, many will discover, is not the path to truth but the consequence of truth.

We must never sacrifice truth on the altar of civility, but on occasion, civility can and should be breached in order to honor truth.

A Vision of Being Human: “Am I normal?”

“Am I normal?” Vin asks his sister Viv as they lift off the ground to leave school for home. Vin and Viv are the synthezoid teenagers of Virginia and Vision, the superhero associated with Marvel’s Avengers. This question comes after Vin is confronted during class in the first issue of Vision:

This rendition of Vision (vol. 2, 2016), award-winning and critically acclaimed, sits behind the Disney+ series WandaVision by providing important and substantial backstories for Wanda and Vision but also because the Disney+ series and the twelve-issue comic book series share a framing: The normal American Family.

While WandaVision expands the stereotypical nuclear family trope through pastiche, Tom King (writer) and artists Gabriel Hernandez Walta (issues 1-6, 8-12) and Michael Walsh (issue 7) ground the philosophical questions running through the narrative around Vision’s synthezoid family living in Arlington, VA with the children attending Alexander Hamilton High in Fairfax, VA in the traditional family trope.

Visions entire family, not just Vin, are obsessed to the point of existential dread with their goal of being a normal family (see also Normality in Sayaka Murata). King repeats motifs and phrases around normalcy and the conditions of being a family member—such as Virginia’s proclivity for crying:

Vision is much more than source material for WandaVision, however; this work also offers a powerful addition to science fiction’s enduring questions about what it means to be human—often explored through androids and artificial intelligence—as well as unpacking the essence of love, justice, and the frailty of life (or sentience). [1]

Visions of the Future (Issue 1)

One of the most effective elements of Vision is the use of narrators as well as the color-coding of narrative and dialogue balloons. The first page of the series is all narrator of panels, establishing the normal family trope as well as introducing the framing element for the entire series: “They made compromises that are necessary to raise a family” returns in Issue 12 after the death and destruction that is foretold in this first issue.

Virginia and Vision have a philosophical debate about “nice” and “kind” after awkwardly meeting some neighbors; the entire series is a similar contemplation of core concepts for humanity. Here, readers also see Virginia in the role of the sad housewife (a pattern that continues throughout the work; see the panel above): “She was fascinated by how often she found something that made her cry.”

Along with the focus on “normal” as well as the nature of love (Vision “caught in a state of dread” in tension with “This is my wife. I love her. I must love her”), readers discover that this synthezoid family is living lives quite far from normal; The Grim Reaper kills Viv, and then, Virginia brutally kills the Grim Reaper, prompting one of the darkest uses of dark human in that the issue ends with a parody of normal family life, Virginia saying “Don’t tell your father.”

We can almost hear the laugh track overlaying, as if this were an episode of WandaVision.

Everything Slips through Their Fingers (Issue 2)

Gruesome.

The first two pages are wordless except for the mangled body of Viv muttering “Mother” over and over.

Virginia becomes more than a wife/mother trope with her violent outbursts (again, repeated throughout), but she also introduces a important theme of the narrative—how storytelling shapes reality and truth. When faced with Vision, Virginia fabricates a version of her killing the Grim Reaper because she fears that the truth will harm or destroy their efforts to be a normal family.

Ironically, after Virginia tells her white lie, the couple sits on the couch, her head leaning on Vision’s shoulder (a trope of TV sitcoms repeated throughout WandaVision) with her fear already coming to fruition despite the lie: “These are the noises of their every day. The banal background to their new home. // They used to sound so pleasant.”

In this issue, Vin succumbs to violence also in the absence of his sister, offering a stinging critique of schooling with lunchroom and principal’s office scenes.

In and Out (Issue 3)

The mutant universe has long been used as a metaphor for discrimination and bigotry. One of the key aspects of the theme of normalcy and the nuclear family in Vision is that the synthezoids are very distinctly the Other. Issue 3 opens with a deft confrontation of racial slurs: “Go home, socket lovers” painted on the Visions’ garage door by local teens because as the narrator explains: “Whatever shade of skin a person had, wherever a person was from, whatever god a person worshipped, there was a word for that person.”

This vandalism sparks another act of violence by Virginia.

With the help of Tony Stark, Vision is able to repair Viv—one of many moments in this series where life/sentience is lost and either regained or permanent. When Stark reports back to Captain America’s asking “How it all went,” he oddly frames this miraculous event: “‘Fine,’ Iron Man said. ‘Normal, I mean. Everything was normal.'”

Later, juxtaposed to the very abnormal “normal” return if Viv, readers witness a seduction scene between Virginia and Vision, including the negligee and a brilliant close up of Virginia’s fingers pulling at the string of Vision’s pajama bottoms:

Normal synthezoid romance? Or androids playing the roll of human?

Balls in the Air (Issue 4)

Racial slurs return in this issue, highlighted by a full page close up of Vision holding a football from the high school with the ex-team mascot and image, “Fighting Redskins.” Set in Virginia, this takes direct aim at the former Redskins NFL team in Washington DC.

That offensive logo returns at the end of the issue where Virginia confronts the man who saw her bury the Grim Reaper, who happens t be the father of the teen attacked by Vin and who had begun to flirt with Viv.

When Virginia enters the man’s house, the Redskins logo is in the background, and later, as he pulls a gun on her, the bloody and tragic events unfold (the man shoots his own son and Virginia delivers a skull crushing blow to the man) with the logo bloodied on the wall, highlighted in a single panel ending the issue.

The Villainy You Teach Me (Issue 5)

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare becomes an obsession for Vin, and lines from the play structure the first several pages of this issue, which turns some of the focus to justice and fairness.

While Vision is at the police station answering questions about the shooting, Virginia and the children talk; Virginia repeats “Everything is normal” eve as she explodes and destroys the kitchen table. Viv storms away crying, but Vin remains his inquisitive self, asking, “If you prick me, do I bleed?”

Issue 5 includes two repeated scenes. First, Vision tells Detective Lin, as he did the principal, that he has saved the world 37 times just before Vision (as Virginia did to him) decides to embellish his own version of the night of the shooting: “And all of it cannot redeem him from this, this small moment when he crossed to the other side, when he entered into the madness that was soon to come. // This small moment. // This small lie.”

P vs. NP (Issue 6)

One of the most philosophical issues is this one, a prolonged opening about the problems easily solved and “problems which, practically speaking, you cannot simply solve.”

This musing carries over four pages as the reader watches a problem not easily solved literally unearthed—the remains of the Grim Reaper that Virginia wanted to remain her secret. The issue is filled with off-panel destruction and a blood-splattered Vision dismembering a dog.

The result is a synthezoid green dog built by Vision for the perfect nuclear family. Despite the truth being revealed and despite Virginia’s greatest fear, “the answer, for Vision, was yes. He would continue”:

He would fix what had been broken. He would hide what he could not fix.

He would make his family.

The easy explanation of his answer would be that he, who longed to be human, recognized that this was the human decision.

That every day all men and women make this same choice. To go on even though they cannot possibly go on. …

Indeed, in considering the situation, it was clear:

He had no choice at all…

Vision: The Complete Collection

I Too Shall Be Saved by Love (Issue 7)

With one-shot artist Walsh, King interrupts the narrative of the Visions for a flashback that details the fracture between Vision and Wanda.

This issue is particularly important for WandaVision, but readers also learn (or return to) about the tragic family of Wanda and Vision as well as Vision’s own destruction and resurrection(s). Wanda, too, is reset as Vision explains:

You will not remember my words today.

Just as you will not remember losing Thomas and William to the devil from whom you stole their souls.

To protect you, Agatha will take the memories away, destroy your children as easily as you created them.

In this we have something in common.

You too shall be new.

Vision: The Complete Collection

Virginia, it is revealed, is built from the brain patterns of Wanda: “In the end, we begin again. // And everything is new and different.”

Victorious (Issue 8)

“Life is but a dream,” Virginia intones as she plays the piano. The dream motif stands in contrast to the nightmare unfolding with the arrival of Vision’s android brother, Victor.

Victor and Virginia bond over her trying to play the piano but finding it unsatisfying because “When when I simply access the notes and play play play them well … I seem to feel that I am not playing them.”

Perfect, a synthezoid is thus alienated from being human.

Victor, as readers eventually discover, is ingratiating himself with the family at the behest of the Avengers, but even as he expresses envy for Vision’s “greta family,” Victor cannot avoid yet another tragedy, the death of Vin at his own hands.

They Will Die in the Flames (Issue 9)

Victor is revealed as a paradoxical character; he seeks to avoid his fate (another Ultron plot of destruction) but cannot avoid being the agent of death. This issue reaches back to a line from Issue 7 after Wanda and Vision discuss the future: “Tomorrow always comes,” Vision assures Wanda.

The death of Vin brings not only the inevitable tomorrow but forces the issues of justice that have been on the lips of Vin reciting Shakespeare.

Rage reserved for Virginia now simmers in Vision.

All Will Return to Normal (Issue 10)

Vision cycles through “a great number” of “philosophical and religious traditions,” deciding “I must therefore conclude that it is not just. And what is not just must be addressed.”

Recognizing the inevitability of revenge, Vision is none the less given pause: “I am the Vision of the Avengers. I saved the world 37 times.”

As the opening of the issue establishes, here Vision confronts both philosophy and religion with his daughter Viv, who is kneeling beside her bed about to pray when he comes to talk with her.

“I do not know if there is a god. It seems unlkely,” Viv says after she explains that she is “praying for Vin’s soul to be at rest.

“Yes. It does seem unlikely,” Vision adds, before they agree to pray that there is a god, that Vin has a soul, and that “god [allows] Vin’s soul to rest.”

Our narrator assures us there is a god: “Someone to greet our souls when we leave this life. // Someone to tell us that we have done enough, that we have done what we could. // That, now, finally we may rest.”

You and I Were Born for Better Things (Issue 11)

In this penultimate issue, Vision must fight through the Avengers in order to avenge his son’s death by killing Victor. Simultaneously, Virginia confesses her role in the death of Viv’s potential human boyfriend, resulting in Viv smashing the table as Virginia has, a foreshadowing of sorts.

In a blurring of violent scenes (Vision fighting the Avengers and Virgnia killing the dog), the normal nuclear family motif returns. The narrator retells of Vision creating Virginia and details:

He explained to her that she was a good person.

That she was made to be a good person with a free will of her own.

Now, should she so desire, she could join him on his quest to live a good life.

They could marry.

They could have a house.

They could have children.

They could be part of a happy, normal family

Vision: The Complete Collection

Vision faces Wanda last; she greets him with “The future is here.” Her plea fails as Vision says, “I do not think that you understand. That you ever understood. // I want to be like everyone else.”

Revenge, however, is at the hands of Virginia, who kills Victor.

Spring (Issue 12)

The last issue is a final retelling, a revision of truth.

Virginia tells Detective Linn another embellished story of Victor’s death before committing suicide. As Vision is dressing before seeing Virginia in her final moments, the opening narration is repeated, ending ominously as on the first page of issue 1: “They made the compromises that are necessary to raise a family.”

The final scene is the darkest version of the happy married couple on the couch, including Virginia again resting her head on Vision’s shoulder. And she dies: “Virginia did the right thing. // Or she did the wrong thing. // Or she just did what everyone does —”

Although the final panels are ambiguous, that the last issue is “Spring” and we are left with Vision, his daughter Viv, and what seems to be the likelihood that Vision is rebuilding Virginia, I recognize the ending to Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, a misunderstood work of dark humor and hope: “And it was something of a confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions when at the end of their journey the daughter first lifted herself up and stretched her young body.”

Vision is smiling and singing, “Life is but a dream.”

For synthezoids and humans alike?


[1] See, for example, Blade Runner (1982), Blade Runner 2049, Philip K. Dick, Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep?, and The Existential Itch: “It’s the most human thing we can do”

Recommended

From Dress Codes to Pornography: Miseducating Children on Love and Sex

“My first introduction to porn was in middle school watching the ‘scrambled channel’ to catch the few split seconds when the static morphed into a bare butt thrusting,” explains Tracy Clark-Flory, a journalist covering the sex industry, adding: “Officially, I thought of watching porn less as entertainment than instruction, an investigation into men’s desire more than my own.”

Clark-Flory notes that her experience is “typical” for young women, and her evolving lessons around pornography are powerfully framed as she further examines her earliest lessons:

It goes without saying: as I was growing up, no one had talked to me about the sexual politics of power, performance and perspective. No one – not my parents, not my sex ed classes, not the writers of glossy magazine sex advice – had bothered to go beyond basic mechanics and technique. A true sexual education has less to do with diagrams of the human reproductive system than with understanding another organ: the brain.

My porn life: what my years as a sex writer taught me about my desires

Addressing a controversy around the backstory of an American Girl doll with lesbian aunts, James Finn confronts how children are the “big losers” in the lessons they receive about love, sex, and marriage:

When straight people get married, we tell kids the truth — that the bride and groom love each other and want to spend their lives together. Don’t small children love hearing about that? I sure did when I was a kid.

So here’s the the frightening lesson being taught in this American Girl uproar: Straight people marry for love. Gay people marry for sex, and that’s so disgusting we don’t dare talk about it in front of children.

Parents SHOCKED Over Doll’s Lesbian Aunts

Both of these examples are disturbing because they expose the great failure in the U.S. to offer purposeful and healthy education for children on love and sex, leaving most of the lessons children learn to chance and taking place well outside formal schooling or the purview of parents or other caring adults.

Clark-Flory’s experiences framed as “typical” for girls and young women unmask some of the foundational messages that allow and perpetuate male-centric and misogynistic norms that create hostile and unfulfilling environments for many if not most women. Like Clark-Flory, Finn adds the alienating and harmful lessons about “normal” love, sex, and traditions such as marriage.

Even the recent rise in efforts to address pornography in formal education, “porn literacy,” tends to cause even greater harm, Clark-Flory argues, because “the goal is less to foster a thoughtful, nuanced engagement with porn, but rather to reject the medium as ‘fake.'”

“[M]oralizing around sexual behaviors that many people genuinely enjoy,” Clark-Flory concludes, “is counter to the compelling and undeniable truth offered up by porn: sex can be a great many things.”

In mainstream education and parenting in the U.S., we must admit that most teaching about love and sex is either absent or normative (and harmful).

Next to the examples offered by Clark-Flory and Finn, one of the most powerful and pervasive indirect lessons found in formal schooling become even more disturbing—the lessons taught by dress codes.

From the first days of schooling, children are taught that a great deal of who they are as well as their responsibility for other people’s behavior is linked to their clothing. And those lessons are not only harmful but also deeply gendered; research details that dress codes disproportionately impact girls and young women.

The messaging of dress codes are no different than what Finn notes about popular dolls:

Children hear what their parents are saying about American Girl. Nascent queer kids are being injected with self loathing. Kids who will grow up cis and straight are internalizing values of bullying and stigmatizing.

Why would anyone want to teach shaming and bullying to kids? Women marry one another sometimes; that’s just a fact. Same-sex marriage is legal, ordinary, and no more sexual than any other marriage. Kids can handle that reality even if their family practices a faith that doesn’t endorse same-sex marriage.

Parents SHOCKED Over Doll’s Lesbian Aunts

Similar to the normalizing messaging around American Girl dolls recognized by Finn about love, sex, and marriage, dress codes lay the foundation for slut shaming and victim blaming.

Girls are taught early and often that they are responsible for how boys respond to their clothes and their bodies. But boys are learning these lessons also.

The great and awful irony in this dynamic is that the attitudes and practices considered “normal” (and thus right)—such as honoring marriage as a celebration of love by one man and one woman or the respectability politics of dress codes—alienate and miseducate children in ways that lead to unfulfilling and abusive attitudes about love and sex.

Love and sex are central to being fully human—but not in any singular or correct way. Beneath the problems around consent and sexual abuse/assault are the many harmful lessons children are learning daily in their schools, their homes, and their communities.

Children are not incomplete humans, and avoiding lessons around love and sex as well as miseducating children about love and sex denies their humanity along with perpetuating the likelihood that in their lives love and sex will lead to fear, humiliation, and even abuse.

The problems are not pornography or dolls with lesbian aunts; the problems are the adults, themselves trapped in fear and misinformation.

Teaching WandaVision: A Textset on Pastiche [updated]

Early in the semester of my first-year writing seminar, we consider and reconsider openings in essays, an interrogation of students’ experiences with the mechanical “introduction” with the obligatory thesis sentence.

We examine, for example, several Beginnings from Barbara Kingsolver’s essays in High Tide in Tucson and Small Wonder. Two essay beginnings reveal the complexity of student awareness about genre, writing forms, and language/text conventions.

Kingsolver’s “Creation Stories” opens with “June is the cruelest month in Tucson, especially when it lasts until the end of July.” Students always struggle with tone (missing the exaggeration and humor), and completely miss the allusion the T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” (a work itself rich with allusion and historically situated).

I have them consider that their dominant experiences with literary texts in school have been deadly serious, both the texts they have read and the approach taken to those texts (analyzing for deeply serious meaning). Then, I stress the problems with referential texts, such as the use of allusion, since the author is expecting the readers/audience to have the background knowledge needed to recognize the reference and its significance to the texts being addressed.

“Once upon a time, a passing stranger sent me into exile,” Kingsolver begins in her “Jabberwocky.” Immediately, students identify this reference to fairy tales, showing they have a sense of genre that helps guide their expectations as reader (although, as noted above, they also have the “seriousness” baggage cultivated in their formal English courses).

Formal reading and analysis of texts remains mostly in English and literacy courses where students focus on text-based literature (what we once called “print”) and instruction includes techniques such as satire, parody, allusion, and pastiche.

However, most students spend much of their lives with texts that are virtual and in the form of video (film, series, etc.). And in the world outside of formal schooling, referential texts are quite common but depend on pop culture background knowledge—such as the TV series Community.

Before the activity on beginnings, I asked if students were watching the recent series WandaVision, grounded in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Very few were watching and many weren’t aware of the series available on Disney+.

WandaVision
Disney/Marvel

When I pulled up the IMDB page of WandaVision and scrolled to a black-and-white trailer for the series, students have no reference point for what the series is doing as pastiche exploring the history of sitcoms in the U.S. reaching back into mid-twentieth century.

However, as I watched the first five episodes, I continually identified matching sets from series I watched growing up as well as homages to sitcom opening credits and theme songs.

WandaVision takes the Easter Egg hook now common in the MCU and carries references several steps farther, turning the series into a powerful lever for moving the MCU forward and a stand-alone homage and critique of pop culture driven by TV and film.

As with Community, WandVision provides a perfect opportunity for rethinking what texts we present to students and how we help students navigate referential media.

Here, then, drawn from the sources below, I want to offer a textset for WandaVision as an exploration of pastiche while highlighting some of the instructional goals that match traditional approaches in English course and some that expand that instruction.

Instructional goals for a WandaVision textset may include the following

  • Introducing or examining techniques such as satire, parody, allusion, and pastiche, focusing on the distinguishing characteristics among these approaches as well as the uses of and limitations to referential texts.
  • Exploring genre and medium conventions grounded in U.S. TV sitcoms since the mid-twentieth century, including the following: bedrooms of TV married couples, conventions of sitcoms (theme music, opening credits, set design, etc.), TV transition from black-and-white to color, sitcom tropes (pregnancy, neighbors, spouse roles, etc.).
  • Rethinking text beyond print and the importance of the binge-series versus traditional films or network TV weekly series.

Source background materials (Marvel comics that serve the MCU; see here):

Avengers (vol. 1): 113, 133-135, Giant Size 4 (1974), 185-187, 253, 254, 675-690

Vision and Scarlet Witch (1982): 1-4

West Coast Avengers (vol. 2, Avengers West Coast vol. 1, vol. 2): 42-49, 52

Avengers Disassembled

House of M

New Avengers: 26

Avengers: Children’s Crusade

Scarlet Witch: Witches’ Road

Vision: The Complete Collections

Avengers: No Road Home

House of X: 1

Empyre X-Men: 1, 4

TV and Film references (pastiche sources through E5):

[TV]

I Love Lucy (1951-1957)

The Honeymooners (1955-1956)

Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963)

The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966)

Bewitched (1964-1972)

I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970)

The Twilight Zone (195901964)

The Brady Bunch (1969-1974)

The Partridge Family (1970-1974)

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1969-1972)

All in The Family (1971-1979)

Charlie’s Angels (1976-1981)

Get Smart (1965-1970)

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (1976-1977)

Growing Pains (1985-1992)

Step by Step (1991-1998)

Family Ties (1982-1989)

Full House (1987-1995)

Malcolm in the Middle (2000-2006)

Modern Family (2009-2020)

The Office (2005-2013)

Happy Endings (2011-2020)

[Film]

The Truman Show (1998)

Pleasantville (1998) [See also Viewing Pleasantville in Trumplandia]

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Blade Runner (1982) [See The ‘WandaVision’ Finale’s ‘Blade Runner’ Reference Will Break Your Heart]

UPDATE: Here’s every TV show that WandaVision is based on (there’s a lot)


Sources

Postmodern Use of Parody and Pastiche

The inescapable postmodernism within television series Community by Sam Shepherd

The 68 Movie References in Community

10 Best Comics To Read With WandaVision!

38 details you may have missed on ‘WandaVision,’ so far

‘WandaVision’: All of the Marvel Easter Eggs and Sitcom References So Far

Breaking Down ‘WandaVision’s TV Sitcom and Genre Influences, Episode by Episode

A Guide To All The Sitcom References In ‘WandaVision’

Who Was the First TV Couple to Sleep in the Same Bed?

See Also

‘WandaVision’ echoes myths of Isis, Orpheus and Kisa Gotami to explain how grief and love persevere

The “Science of Reading”: A Movement Anchored in the Past

One of the defining moments of my first-year writing seminar is my reading aloud the first few paragraphs from A Report from Occupied Territory by James Baldwin.

This essay in The Nation from July 11, 1966, offers students dozens of powerful examples of compelling and purposeful writing, Baldwin at his best. But the circumstances of the essay are what first strike my students.

“There was a great commotion in the streets, which, especially since it was a spring day, involved many people, including running, frightened, little boys,” Baldwin writes. “They were running from the police.”

We note that Baldwin uses “police[men]” five times in the first paragraph, which focuses on people in the Harlem “in terror of the police” because “two of the policemen were beating up a kid.”

Students immediately noted that Baldwin was addressing exactly the same racism grounded in policing that has been the source of social unrest in the U.S. throughout 2020.

In other words, racism in policing in the U.S. is not a recent crisis, but a historically systemic fact of policing.

The more things change, we noted, the more they stay the same.

The history of education in the U.S. is often fascinating and surprising, but it also is like being Phil (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day—especially when it comes to bandwagons and political and public cries of “crisis.”

Fews aspects of education represent this pattern more than reading, suffering the “science of reading” (SoR) movement since early 2018.

The SoR movement is nothing new, a movement anchored in the past.

But as David Reinking, Victoria J. Risko and George G. Hruby note at The Answer Sheet (The Washington Post), “More worrisome, a majority of states have enacted, or are considering, new laws mandating how reading must be taught and setting narrow criteria for labeling students as reading disabled.”

Reading was declared a crisis in the 1940s because of literacy tests of WWII recruits, throughout the 1950s and 1960s because of Rudolf Flesch’s Why Johnny Can’t Read, in the 1990s because of handwringing over NAEP scores, during the George W. Bush presidency with the National Reading Panel and No Child Left Behind, and, as noted above, over the last couple years because of the SoR movement prompted by the journalism of Emily Hanford.

As my students came to recognize about racism and policing in the U.S., anyone who examines the history and current bandwagon of reading will see that schools, teachers, and students have, like Phil, lived the same day over and over—reading is in crisis and here is the silver-bullet for all students to read.

One must wonder why we never pause to confront that this formula has never resulted in anything other than the same crisis.

And one must acknowledge that something cannot be a movement if it is anchored in doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

Take for example The Science of Reading: A Defining Movement.

The Coalition Members include a strong connection to The Reading League, formed in 2016.

Both the website and the League represent the very worst of missionary zeal and good intentions; and they both fail the fact check necessary for claims about a reading crisis and the bandwagon of SoR.

First, The Reading League grounds their concerns in a misguided and false red flag about whole language, as reported on Syracuse.com: “Murray is referring to the large base of research and knowledge that proves scientifically-grounded methodology in teaching reading is more effective than the ‘whole language’ approach most curriculum takes.”

This argument has two significant flaws. First, whole language has been replaced by balanced literacy for decades. And second, the 1990s revealed a discredited assault on whole language and an ignored analysis of by Darling-Hammond that showed a positive correlation between higher NAEP scores and students being in whole language classrooms.

The website, The Science of Reading: A Defining Movement, is complicated to fact check because there seems to be a purposeful effort to appear to be different than the SoR bandwagon by rejecting the term as a “buzzword” and demanding “We must preserve the integrity of reading science.”

Further, in the Preamble to their The Science of Reading: A Defining Guide, one sentence stands out: “We know that our children can be taught to read properly the first time.”

“The first time”?

Literacy and reading are lifelong learning experiences, and this claim raises a genuine red flag about this movement.

But the biggest reveal about the so-called SoR movement is in the definition, where there is a narrow parameter set for “scientifically-based”: experimental/quasi-experimental study design, replication or refinement of findings, and peer-reviewed journal publication.

If that sounds familiar, you have simply awakened to the same day some twenty years ago when the National Reading Panel made the exact same claim—and proved to be a deeply flawed report while the policy implications not only did not improve reading but also became mired in funding corruption with Reading First.

The SoR movement is a bandwagon with its wheels mired in the same muddle arguments that have never been true and silver-bullet solutions that have never worked.

Like Phil, we find ourselves waking up to the same day in reading.

This is no crisis, but it certainly is a tired, old story that needs to be left behind through some other vehicle than a bandwagon.

See Also

Greenville News (SC): SC should not “jump on bandwagon” of “science of reading” movement

Open Letter to SC House and Senate Concerning Bill 3613 [UPDATED]

How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students

The State (SC): Read to Succeed bill would fail reading again in South Carolina

Read to Succeed bill would fail reading again in South Carolina (hyperlink version below and link to The State in title)

Currently, I am in year 37 of teaching in SC, serving as a high school English teacher at Woodruff High for 18 years before moving to teacher education at Furman University for the past 19 years. I entered education in SC in 1984, the first days of the accountability movement in our state.

Despite political leaders changing standards and high-stakes testing multiple times over the past four decades, political and public perception remains convinced that our students are, once again, failing to learn to read.

Bill 3613 is making the same mistake political leaders have been making since the 1980s, tinkering with punitive legislation aimed at our students and teachers while ignoring the overwhelming negative impact of inequity in our students’ homes and communities as well as the harmful negative learning and teaching conditions that persist in our schools.

Read To Succeed, which Bill 3613 seeks to amend, misreads both how students learn to read and how best to teach reading. Reading growth is not simple, and test scores are a stronger measure of poverty and social inequities than the state of student learning or the quality of teaching.

This proposed legislation is yet another example of SC jumping on a flawed educational bandwagon (this time copying Mississippi), the “science of reading” movement that has resulted in harmful educational policy such as increased grade retention, over-screening for dyslexia, and prescribing “one-size-fits all” instruction for students.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the largest professional organization for English teachers in the U.S., has issued a strong policy statement rejecting third-grade retention supported by decades of research showing grade retention remains harmful for students. Dorothy C. Suskink also recently posted at NCTE that the “science of reading” movement is deeply misleading in its use of the term “science,” misrepresentation of the National Reading Panel, dependence on discredited reports from the National Council on Teacher Quality, and claims of crisis from NAEP scores.

Prominent literacy scholars David Reinking, Victoria J. Risko and George G. Hruby have also challenged the many flaws in the “science of reading” movement that are now included in Bill 3613. “When the teaching of reading is framed as a war, nuance and common areas of agreement are casualties,” they conclude, adding: “But worse, our children can become innocent victims caught in a no man’s land between those more interested in winning a conflict than in meeting individual needs.”

As has been proven by Read to Succeed so far, the most vulnerable students in our state will be harmed by the policies in this bill the most while political leaders in the state continue to lack the political will and courage to address the root causes of educational challenges across SC—poverty and racial inequity.

I urge political leaders in SC to think differently about our students, our teachers, and our schools; notably, I strongly recommend that we seek ways to create homes, communities, and schools that allow our students to grow and excel in the literacy development.

Continuing to tinker with prescriptive and punitive reading legislation is a dereliction of political and ethical duty; we can and must do better, by doing differently.

LEO’S TV

In the opening weeks of my first-year writing seminar, I introduce students to reading like writers (here and here), emphasizing that we are not reading to write literary analysis (as many of them have done for Advanced Placement Literature) but reading to explore and acquire moves and approaches for effective writing.

Since the first essay assignment is a personal narrative, I provide them with several essay examples and highlight “Peculiar Benefits” by Roxane Gay as a powerful model of what we are trying to accomplish—engaging the reader with personal narrative in order to ask the reader to consider or reconsider some larger idea or argument.

Today I read aloud, as I typically do, the first three paragraphs of the essay from the original online version of Gay’s essay at The Rumpus (many students read Gay’s Bad Feminist, which includes a slightly revised version). We had a robust discussion, and many students were interested in the essay and excited by the writing strategies we highlighted, centered around purposeful writing instead of templates or rules.

Once we ended that discussion, I noted that the three paragraphs included two places that were copyedited for the published essay in Bad Feminist. I asked if any students noticed those examples of what many English teachers and editors would mark as “non-standard” or “errors.”

No student had noticed so I read aloud the two sentences, prompting them to look closely again:

For my brothers and I it was an adventure, sometimes, a chore, and always a necessary education on privilege and the grace of an American passport….

It was hard for a child who grew up on cul-de-sacs, to begin to grasp the contrast between such inescapable poverty alongside almost repulsive luxury and then, the United States, a mere eight hundred miles away, with it’s gleaming cities rising out of the landscape, and the well-maintained interstates stretching across the country, the running water and the electricity.

“Peculiar Benefits,” Roxane Gay

One student noticed that “for my brothers and I” would be edited to “for my brothers and me”; I discussed with the class the common problem of case switching when there are two people versus one. Most people would always choose “for me” and not “for I,” but will choose “for my brothers and I” based on a weird urge to overcorrect likely grounded in being chastised as children for “Me and him went to the store.”

It took a bit more nudging, but eventually they saw the “it’s” that would be edited to “its.” Here I noted that people have an urge to insert the apostrophe with “its” although it is the same form as “his” (which never has an apostrophe added) and “hers”/”theirs” (which occasionally gets the added apostrophe).

The apostrophe works in both possession and contraction, causing people problems in written text never present in spoken language. People never confuse the constructions of “Bob’s car” and “there are two Bobs in our family” when heard aloud—even without the aid of the apostrophe.

My point here was to help students begin to move away from the paralyzing effect of being perfect (avoiding surface “errors”) and to recognize what people are doing when they read.

I shared with them a recent story about my granddaughter, Skylar, who is six and eagerly reads aloud throughout her day whenever she sees text.

A couple weeks ago, I had picked up my granddaughter and grandson (Brees, who is four). While we were driving to my apartment, stopped at a red light, Skylar asked, “Papa, what is L E O S?”

I turned back toward her and noticed a business sign directly out her window. “It’s ‘Leo’s,'” I said. “A name.”

She immediately announced, “Leo’s TV.”

First, I think it is interesting that she seems to have paid no attention to the apostrophe (and there is ample evidence that almost all modern readers of English find little to no value in the apostrophe; hence, it is likely dying as a marker for possession and contractions).

But with the recent phonics-mania and revived advocacy for the “simple view” of reading, it is also a valuable cautionary tale, this experience with a sign.

Of the six letters Skylar was reading, four of them are just saying the letter; if she had tried to decode those two words in any simple way, she would have mangled them greatly.

And imagine if the owner were “Zoe” or “Joe.”

Both the moment with my granddaughter and my first-year writing students demonstrates the holistic nature of literacy—of reading. And frankly, there is nothing simple about it.

For a six-year-old, there is a maze of fonts as well as the use of capitol or lower case lettering all mixed in with dozens of arcane phonics “rules” and exceptions; but for more advanced readers such as my students, even when they have been prompted to use close reading in their literary analysis, they simply do not see many microlevel, isolated elements of text.

Certainly phonemic awareness and patterns are valuable aspects of creating meaning from text. But Skylar often uses a much better technique; ask what you don’t know and blend it with what you do.

So-called standard spelling, punctuation, and grammar have some value for sharing meaning among users of a language, but my students have become nearly immobile as writers because they try to be perfect even as they are discovering and creating meaning with text.

And I have watched Skylar laboriously try to sound out a word, grinding all meaning to a halt. But when I say the word aloud for her, she recognizes it and flies ahead. She often already knows it by sight the next time we come across it.

In the span between being a beginning reader to an independent and expert reader, there is much any person needs to acquire—and little we can predict that “all students” must do along the way. Let’s not fall for the allure of “simple” and certainly let’s not continue leading our students down a path toward paralysis, where meaning goes to die.

Like “Leo,” another three-letter word needs to be always at the forefront of anyone growing as a reader, “joy.”